Irish Leaving Certificate (new grading scheme from 2017)

Last updated
Last verified

Updated July 2016

  • Ireland

The Leaving Certificate (Established) is a two-year programme that aims to provide learners with a broad, balanced education while also offering some specialisation towards a particular career option.

Education context

The programme is taken in almost all schools and by an annual cohort of around 55,000 students.

Students following the Leaving Certificate (Established) programme are required to study at least five subjects, one of which must be Irish (although students may be exempted from the Irish requirement in certain, very limited, circumstances). Most students take seven subjects for examination.

The median age on completion is 18, and 96% of candidates are aged 17, 18 or 19 years. The majority of candidates (55%) have completed six years of post-primary education, with almost all of the remainder having completed five years.

A variation of the established Leaving Certificate is the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) which concentrates on technical subjects with additional vocationally focused modules.

An alternative to the established Leaving Certificate is the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme (LCA). This is a stand-alone pre-vocational programme designed to prepare students for working life through a two-year cross-curricular course. LCA is not recognised for direct entry to HE courses in Ireland.


Students following the Leaving Certificate (Established) programme are required to study at least five subjects, one of which must be Irish.

Most students take seven subjects for examination.

Irish Leaving Certificates subjects can be taken at one of two levels (tiers): Higher or Ordinary.  In addition, Irish and Mathematics are available at Foundation Level (a lower tier than Ordinary Level).

Over 30 curricular Leaving Certificate subjects are available to schools.

The Leaving Certificate is awarded by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).

Subject areas
  • Accounting
  • Agricultural science
  • Ancient Greek
  • Applied mathematics
  • Arabic
  • Arts
  • Biology
  • Business
  • Chemistry
  • Classical studies
  • Construction studies
  • Design and communication graphics
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Hebrew studies
  • History
  • Home economics
  • Irish
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Latin
  • Mathematics
  • Music
  • Physics
  • Physics and chemistry
  • Religious studies
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Design and technology

In addition to these curricular subjects, the State Examinations Commission provides, on a non-curricular basis, mother-tongue examinations (at Higher Level only) to native speakers of recognised languages of the European Union.  A total of 16 non-curricular EU languages are currently offered and candidates may only take one of these examinations.


The Leaving Certificate caters for a broad range of candidate achievement and therefore spans Levels 4 and 5 on Ireland’s National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). This corresponds with Levels 2 and 3 on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Irish NFQ Levels 4 and 5 are referenced to EQF Levels 3 and 4. Please see the Irish EQF referencing report at:

As the number of subjects studied is greater, Higher Level examinations in individual subjects in the Irish Leaving Certificate are considered to be of a somewhat lower standard than GCE A level.

Examinations at Ordinary Level are of a lower standard than those at Higher Level, but there is some grade overlap between the higher grades at Ordinary Level and the lower grades of Higher Level. For the purposes of admission to Irish higher education courses, Ordinary Level grades O1 to O3 receive similar recognition to Higher Level grades H5 to H7 as shown below, see 'Key issues for UK HE admissions' .  Ordinary Level grades O1 to O4 represent a similar standard of achievement to NQF Level 3 while those at Ordinary Level O5 or below represent a similar standard of achievement to NQF Level 2.

For further information on the qualification level you may wish to refer to UK NARIC, which is the UK body responsible for providing comparability of overseas qualifications.


Results of the Leaving Certificate examination subjects are given in the form of grades. From 2017, each grade will represent a percentage range of marks as below.

Percentage range Grade
90 – 100 H1 / O1
80<90 H2 / O2
70<80 H3 / O3
60<70 H4 / O4
50<60 H5 / O5
40<50 H6 / O6
30<40 H7 / O7
0<30 H8 / O8

Each subject is assessed by an external examination at the end of the two-year programme of study.  All examinations include at least one written paper.  Subjects with additional components (all of which are externally assessed) are as follows:

There are oral and aural tests in Irish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese.

There are practical examinations in engineering, construction studies, art and music.

There is practical course work in engineering, construction studies, agricultural economics, agricultural science, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme modules, history, geography, religious education, design and communication graphics, home economics and technology.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

Students are certified in individual subjects (at Higher or Ordinary Level in each subject) within the Leaving Certificate.

No overall grade is given on the basis of average performance across subjects. However, Irish universities and other HEPs convert candidates’ top six grades into a number of points for the purposes of admissions.  See below 'Key issues for UK HE admissions' for details of relative treatment of grades achieved at Higher and Ordinary Levels.

Guided/notional learning hours notes

Ordinary Level – each subject requires a minimum of 180 hours guided learning hours (GLH)

Higher Level – each subject generally requires 240 GLH.

UCAS Tariff points

Leaving Certificate - Higher Level (Ireland) (first awarded in 2017)

Grade Points
H1 36
H2 30
H3 24
H4 18
H5 12
H6 9

Leaving Certificate - Ordinary Level (Ireland) (first awarded in 2017)

Grade Points
O1 12
O2 10
O3 8
O4 6


Key issues for UK HE admissions

Most UK HEPs require six ILC grades at Higher Level as an alternative to three GCE A levels.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

Written examinations take place over 13 weekdays commencing in early June. Examinations results are issued mid-August annually.

Full examinations timetables and schedules are available at

Qualification dates notes

New from 2017.

Reporting and certification information

The programme is taken in almost all Irish schools and by an annual cohort of around 55,000 students.

Grade distributions for the last ten years are available here:

Progression information/access to HE within home country

Admission to university studies in Ireland is predominantly on the basis of the Leaving Certificate examination. The minimum entry requirement of the National University of Ireland (NUI) is six subjects, including Irish and English, with a third language also required in some cases.

There are variations between institutions, but, in general, for direct entry into an Honours degree programme, a minimum of grade H5 at Higher Level in two subjects is required and a minimum of grade H6 in other specified subjects.  Entry to Ordinary Level degree programmes in the Institutes of Technology does not include a requirement to have taken any examinations at Higher Level.

The supply-and-demand situation between university courses is broadly similar to that in the UK. Overall demand exceeds supply in certain disciplines and competition is strong. This is reflected in stringent entry requirements for areas such as medicine and law, which may involve five or six H1 grades in Higher Level subjects.

In practice, a rank order of candidates who satisfy eligibility requirements is established by converting Leaving Certificate grades for the six best subjects into a points score.

The points allocations have been collectively agreed by the third-level institutions involved in the Irish Central Applications Office (CAO) scheme.

100 points are awarded for grade H1 at Higher Level and 56 points for grade H5. One sitting only of the Leaving Certificate Examination is counted for points purposes. Since 2012, an extra 25 points are awarded to students who attain a Grade H6 or better in Higher Level mathematics.

For the purpose of this conversion of grades to points, the following are the linkages in relative value between grades awarded at Higher and Ordinary Levels. These alignments are based on overall level of achievement and are not subject to a subsequent adjustment for qualification size:

  • Higher H5 equates to Ordinary O1
  • Higher H6 equates to Ordinary O2
  • Higher H7 equates to Ordinary O3.

The above are the only overlapping grades on the points scale and this approach matches the new total Tariff point alignments, but the CAO scale extends beyond this – Irish universities do not award points for grades below H7 at Higher Level, but do award points for grades below O3 at Ordinary Level.

Statistics on the distribution of total CAO points obtained by the full cohort of candidates in any year are available at:

Further information

Curriculum and syllabus:

Details of examinations, including open archive of examination papers, marking schemes, and Chief Examiner reports:

Further information on school and college level options:

Information on qualifications, entry requirements, etc.: